Sales vs. marketing: The differences and how they work together
Sales and marketing are two sides of the same coin. Both affect your sales pipeline, and each depends on the other. Here's what makes them different and why it matters for your bottom line.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated January 20, 2023
Marketing and sales are arguably a company’s best tools for generating profit. Generally speaking, marketers attract leads and sales agents close deals, but the interconnectivity and differences between sales and marketing go deeper. When both are aligned with your broader strategy, marketing and sales help streamline business operations, improve customer loyalty, and ensure clear communication across the board.
To explain the difference between marketing and sales, we’ll cover both departments and how they interact. We’ll also go over how you can align your sales and marketing teams to boost efficiency and profit. So, instead of choosing to invest in sales vs. marketing, we’ll discuss how to align both for the best results.
Overview of the difference between sales and marketing (+ smarketing)
Marketing and sales teams work in tandem to increase lead generation and revenue but use different tactics and set unique goals to maximize profitability. A marketing team, for instance, may leverage customer data for campaigns in order to spark interest in the brand; meanwhile, the sales team contacts interested prospects to convert leads into customers.
To define the sales and marketing process (and their intersection) in simple terms:
- Marketing teams attract prospects to the company through campaigns.
- Sales teams use outreach to reinforce marketing messaging, address prospect concerns, and nurture leads into customers.
- New customer testimonials and data help marketing teams refine messaging for future campaigns before the process repeats.
What is sales?
Sales is the process of facilitating or completing a transaction. Sales teams directly interact with leads interested in a product or who fit the target demographic. Sales teams identify customers, convince them to buy a product, and measure the company’s success against quotas and benchmarks. The process involves:
- Identifying prospective customers
- Learning customer interests and pain points
- Educating leads about a product or service
- Converting prospects into customers through outreach
Sales representatives rely on diverse tactics and outreach strategies. Some of the most popular tactics include:
- Cold calling
- Attending networking events
- Product demonstrations
- Personalized messaging
- Researching and qualifying prospects
What is marketing?
Marketing attracts customers to a company’s products and services. Marketers create content, messaging, and research that generates interest in a product, fosters brand loyalty, and segments customers. Marketing ultimately improves sales by creating conditions in sales reps’ favor.
While sales involves a lot of direct contact with leads, marketers reach their audience through direct and indirect channels. Some of the most popular approaches include:
- Content marketing
- Social media marketing
- Hosting promotional events
- Email marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Conversational marketing
What is “smarketing”?
“Smarketing” refers to the integration of the sales and marketing processes. By unifying both teams, proponents argue company performance improves across the board. According to LinkedIn, 85 percent of sales and marketing leaders assert that alignment is the largest opportunity for improving business performance.
Sales vs. marketing: A comparison
Marketing and sales play a vital role in generating revenue. Each team plays a complementary role to the other and contributes to the bottom line; however, sales and marketing create transactions from different angles. So instead of asking if sales or marketing is better, managers should instead assess each team’s strengths and weaknesses.
We’ll outline some essential differences below:
|Sales||Close deal||Lead-centric||Long-term||CRMs, invoicing, order management||Direct engagement||Narrow||Diverse|
|Marketing||Create interest||Product-centric||Short-term||SEO, CRO, content creation tools||Indirect promotion||Wide||Specialized|
Approach and process
Marketing and sales teams take different approaches to turning profit. Both focus on specific parts of the customer journey with marketers setting customers up to buy and sales agents closing a deal.
Marketing focuses on the product. A successful marketing campaign will understand:
- Product: The good or service you sell
- Price: The amount customers must pay
- Place: Where you advertise the product
- Promotion: Your advertising strategy and how you market a product
The sales process employs a more customer-centric strategy. Not every lead will become a customer. So, it becomes the sales team’s job to:
- Qualify leads by noting the prospects most likely to convert
- Design a pitch that’s flexible and effective
- Develop answers to customer questions that put the product in a good light
By identifying a target audience and crafting a message that appeals to them, marketers help create an environment conducive to sales. Instead of focusing on your sales funnel vs. marketing funnel, remember that each team shares an overall sales process. By working together, teams see the best returns.
The crucial difference in measuring the success of marketing or sales goals is timing and goal-tracking metrics.
Marketing teams focus primarily on long-term goals. Though many teams have short-term goals to track, product awareness and reach—especially for a fledgling company—can take months. Some marketing metrics or goals include:
- Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
- Time spent on site
- Bounce rate
- Return on investment (ROI)
- Organic traffic
Sales teams focus primarily on short-term goals. Larger, yearly goals get set, but there’s typically a big focus on monthly or even biweekly goals and quotas to ensure teams are tracking toward the larger goal. Sales metrics or goals that teams often measure include:
- Conversion rate
- Time to purchase
- Average deal size
- Lead response time
- Percentage of revenue from new vs. existing customers
Both teams play a role in prospecting, but marketers focus on a broader audience while salespeople focus on prospects at the bottom of the buyer funnel who are more primed to purchase. Marketing teams have different strategies for top-, middle-, and bottom-funnel prospects, modifying strategies based on how ready they are to purchase.
Strategies and tactics
Though overarching strategies should be interdepartmental and overlap, each team has its own strategies to support broader business goals.
Marketing teams execute strategies to build interest around a brand by:
- Creating buyer personas through in-depth demographic research
- Researching consumer demographics and groups most likely to buy
- Honing in on a target audience through branding and promotion
- Obtaining new leads and funneling them into sales
- Spreading and refining brand awareness through omnichannel campaigns
Sales teams rely on strategies to convert leads by:
- Capitalizing on marketers’ research
- Reaching out to leads via email, social media, and text
- Meeting prospects at networking events
- Using connections with past prospects and existing clients to make sales
- Filtering out tire kickers, or leads who won’t commit to a sale
Tools and resources
We’ll discuss overlapping sales and marketing tools in the next section, but before we do, here’s a small sample of different resources utilized by sales and marketing.
- SEO software platforms
- Business intelligence software
- Content creation software (such as photo editing tools)
- CRO (conversion rate optimization) tools
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software
- Lead management software
- Meeting apps
- Invoicing software
- Email management tools
- Inventory and order management software
Since both departments employ radically different tactics to meet goals, their software and tools can vary quite a bit. Additionally, marketing and sales teams must engage in different types of thinking and problem-solving; no one approaches the same problem from the same perspective, and team resources present different ways of generating profit.
Teams and roles
Sales and marketing teams share many of the same goals but not the same structure. Sales teams leverage marketers’ groundwork to handle everything from identifying leads to converting them. By contrast, marketing teams usually focus on specific strategies for building brand awareness.
The most common sales roles include:
- Sales representatives: Employees who identify sales prospects and convert them into customers. Sales reps can work remotely or with customers in person.
- Sales managers: Team leads who oversee a sales team and manage processes. They set quotas for sales reps while ensuring teams have the tools to meet goals.
- Sales specialists: Also called sales consultants, these employees specialize in a specific product or service. Their expertise helps them hit higher sales targets, research sales trends, troubleshoot issues, and run product demos.
- Account executives: High-level salespeople who bring in new business, write proposals, negotiate with clients, and close the largest deals. Account executives may oversee an entire sales cycle, ensuring that high-value accounts face no issues.
- Customer support agents: These employees assist customers with their purchases. Support teams can renew sales and bring in repeat customers by troubleshooting issues and fostering relationships.
While some companies create an overlap between marketing teams and tasks, the most common roles include:
- Content marketers: Workers who write engaging copy and design multimedia content to inform prospects of and/or promote a product or service.
- Product marketers: Employees who create web pages for brands, products, and services. Whether they design the page layout or focus on coding, they boost sales with an improved interface.
- Digital advertisers: These individuals establish a brand’s online presence and market through internet channels such as web pages, streaming content, and paid search.
- Social media marketers: These marketers leverage social media apps and websites to build a brand, drive traffic, and increase sales.
- SEO analysts: SEO analysts and marketers increase traffic to a website from search engines. By studying algorithms and overseeing content, SEO specialists improve your web rankings to draw in free traffic.
- Marketing managers: Managers synthesize the work completed by different teams. They combine team findings and refine content to attract the most customers.
Smarketing: How sales and marketing work together
As previously mentioned, “smarketing” refers to aligning sales and marketing operations. Even though uniting sales and marketing efforts can boost revenue by up to 208 percent, the Zendesk State of Sales report notes that only 35 percent of firms do so.
Ensuring the two departments stay on the same page isn’t necessarily easy, but it is vital for long-term growth. In order for sales and marketing to work together, rely on the five Cs of smarketing: communication, consistency, coordination, clarity, and core team.
Breaking down silos between sales and marketing involves frequent communication. To keep both teams on the same page, set up systems and policies that promote collaboration. More specifically, you can align sales and marketing with these strategies:
- Host regular meetings with both departments
- Define common terms for consistency across teams
- Identify key performance indicators sales reps and marketers share
- Acquire technology to support communication initiatives
- Ensure agents, managers, and senior leaders all support alignment
Keeping branding, tone, key performance indicators (KPIs), and company values consistent across departments is essential to instituting a winning marketing and sales plan.
Improve consistency by:
- Creating clear brand messaging information to use in sales and marketing
- Working within standardized processes marketing and sales teams will recognize
- Aligning on broader company KPIs and priorities
- Cultivating a culture that speaks to company values
Improving coordination between departments can enhance your output without a substantial investment. Collaboration improves customer support and sales. Many organizations achieve this by:
- Scheduling interdepartmental meetings at least once a quarter
- Determining which projects require interdepartmental attention well in advance
- Standardizing methods of sharing customer feedback
- Conducting high-level department reporting on KPIs
- Sharing impactful team changes or internal issues with dedicated management team members as soon as possible
Transparent practices are key for smarketing efforts. Sales and marketing teams need a clear, shared vision. In this case, clarity between teams ensures:
- A shared understanding of the sales and marketing landscape and customers
- The ability to communicate a product’s value to customers
And instead of ignoring external or internal red flags, management teams should confront them head-on with a solution-oriented mindset. Important information, including “bad news,” should be shared as needed and addressed to support overall improvement.
While everyone should collaborate, a core team should maintain communications and manage shared resources. This core team should consist of employees with varying levels of seniority. Sales reps and marketers can make up the majority of your team, but a few managers and department directors will go the extra mile.
Not only does creating a core team simplify information reception, but it also makes it easier for you to relay information to your teams. For example, a weekly meeting with 200 people is much harder to organize than one with 20.
How to align sales and marketing
Now that you’ve wrapped your head around the core philosophy of sales and marketing alignment, let’s put it into practice. Because marketing and sales share multiple elements, it’s easy to assume that alignment happens naturally—but this isn’t always the case.
To help you along, here are a few strategies to align your sales and marketing teams.
Use a sales CRM that removes silos between teams
CRM systems streamline the process of aggregating data and sharing views between teams. Though aligning sales and marketing does more than cut costs and share tools across departments—removing silos between teams can dramatically improve a company’s performance. The Zendesk State of Sales report includes a few examples:
- When Standard Beverage pivoted to aligning the team with a simple CRM, it saw a 300 percent increase in accounts.
- Wavy reached a 25 percent conversion rate on the sales side after aligning its teams.
- Conrad Electronic leveraged its CRM to shed light on pain points and provide more robust service.
Create a service-level agreement (SLA)
A service-level agreement (SLA) is an agreement between a business and its customers, but you can also create one between departments. Teams often use an SLA to list a set of deliverables one party has agreed to provide the other. These deliverables can range from qualified leads to a revenue pipeline.
Using an SLA also provides sales and marketing with a tangible means of trust and accountability. A report by LinkedIn found that 87 percent of marketing and sales leaders say alignment between teams enables critical business growth. Down the line, this growth can boost morale and inspire more trust between departments.
Set shared goals
It’s easy to work separately when focused on unique goals, but what about KPIs that sales and marketing both work towards?
Let’s look at lead management and qualifying as an example.
Sales departments do a fair amount of analysis on leads to ensure sales reps are concentrating their efforts on the best prospects, but they can’t cultivate what isn’t there. Marketing departments, therefore, have the shared goal of accruing valuable leads that match the target audience and who are likely to move past the interest phase and into purchasing.
When both teams work together on a shared goal, they can better hit KPIs and streamline progress.
Meet regularly and collaborate often
Meetings shouldn’t only occur during chaotic times. The best way to keep staff on the same page is to create an environment where communication is consistent and proactive. Set a precedent from the start, briefing each new hire on best practices during onboarding. If multiple staff members are onboarding, go through the process as a group as much as possible.
For established team members, you can ramp up your communication by:
- Hosting regular meetings
- Creating more opportunities to share research with colleagues
- Using business messaging platforms like Slack or Zendesk
- Sending email updates on important changes and new information
Team mentality is easier to build when it’s a core foundation, not something tacked on.
Create a team email alias
Creating a team email alias that goes to all members of the sales and marketing teams is a simple, ingenious tool. It allows for easier distribution of information within the sales and marketing departments and allows external teams to share relevant information with both groups.
A team alias also gives sales and marketing staff easy access to what the other is communicating and what formats (such as sales process templates) they are using.
Measure KPIs with reporting and analytics
Net income might indicate overall profitability, but you can get more granular when assessing marketing and sales. By using specific KPIs, you can gauge the success of these departments relative to the whole company, and you can see how well they work together. Here are the most important KPIs to watch:
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs): The number of leads your marketing team hands off to sales for outreach.
- Sales qualified leads (SQLs): The number of potential customers your team converts into sales opportunities.
- Cost per lead (CPL): The cost of identifying a new lead.
- Cost per customer acquisition: The cost of closing a sale with a new customer.
- Customer retention: The rate of customer retention over time. Repeat customers cost less to convert than new prospects and ensure long-term income.
- Marketing ROI: The amount of money generated from a marketing campaign relative to what you spent on it. ROI and net profitability stand out as some of the most important KPIs.
- Sales revenue: The amount of money generated from sales. You can compare different team and agent revenue to find your highest earners.
- Opportunity-to-win ratio: The rate at which you convert leads into customers. This ratio highlights employees’ strengths. A low opportunity-to-win ratio can mean your rep is great at identifying leads but needs to improve at closing sales. On the other hand, a high ratio highlights agents who can reliably sell different products.
Want even more alignment strategies? Take a look at this list of tried-and-true tips:
- Note the external factors affecting your sales to alleviate blame from either team.
- Decide how to reach customers and give both teams specific and achievable goals.
- Make sure the leaders of both teams follow best practices and lead by example.
- Identify target segments and customer profiles both teams should prioritize.
Aligning the best of both worlds
Some companies spend so long weighing whether sales or marketing takes priority that they miss the best strategy right in front of them. Aligning sales and marketing takes direct action and organization. By implementing any of the previously discussed strategies, you can see improvements in content, revenue, budget tracking, and data analysis.
To get you started, Zendesk offers a modern sales CRM that combines easy-to-use tools with collective efficiency. Zendesk Sell:
- Keeps all the information you need in one place
- Provides a unified, customizable workspace for your teams
- Makes sharing information across departments effortless
- Updates metrics in real time
- Tracks prospects at each stage of the buyer’s journey, allowing for clear, consistent communication throughout the sales cycle
A sales performance management process enables you to analyze and actualize your business’s progress and move you toward success.
Get sales advice on sales leadership, sales careers, customer relationships, and more straight from the pros.
Follow this guide to learn all about sales invoices, including how they work, key elements, and steps to creating your own.
Find the best, most effective sales training program for your sales team.